Is coronavirus from God, Satan or nature? Is it God’s punishment poured out on our wrongdoings? An attack from demonic forces? Or simply the impersonal effect of natural biological causes?
These questions constantly haunted Zala. At high school all her classmates learned about the biological roots of coronavirus. They practiced wise precautions such as handwashing and social distancing. This all made sense to Zala. But she suspected there must be more behind the science—a spiritual aspect to this horrible pandemic. Zala had learned that many Westerners hold to some form of naturalism, the belief that the material universe is all that exists. Naturalism asserts that every event in the universe is caused entirely by natural laws such as physics, chemistry or biology. Even human decisions can be ascribed to chemicals in the brain. Zala had no problem acknowledging the science behind coronavirus but sensed there must be more to it than that.
Zala’s parents viewed the world wearing very different glasses. In their twenties they had immigrated from a country with widespread belief in animism, the view that underlying every material object is an accompanying spirit reality. Behind every rock, tree, animal or person you encounter is a spirit being that can harm or help you. The native religions of their homeland acknowledge the power of voodoo priests, shamans and witch doctors. The spirit reality is perceived as stronger than the scientific. If you pay the right shaman enough money, taking medicine is unnecessary. Christians in the area generally reject these practices but follow their culture in emphasizing the supernatural origins of every event.
Zala’s parents had crystal clarity that coronavirus was an attack of the Enemy and that the appropriate response of every Christian is to pray fervently for protection and healing. Some pastors even encouraged Christians to disregard the calls for restricting worship services to avoid contagion, holding that the blood of Jesus will protest them from harm.
Zala was torn between these two worlds she loved very much. Second-generation immigrant students from other countries faced similar dilemmas. On the one hand she trusted her pastor and parents deeply, resonating with the spiritual realities they explained. If the material world is all that exists, life seemed pointless. On the other hand, what she learned at school seemed reasonable and accurate. Her teachers presented pictures of the virus that cause coronavirus and can explain its spread. And her classmates were likeable. Zala really wanted to fit in with them. If she prayed as long and loud as her parents, her friends would totally freak out! Zala felt stranded between two irreconcilable worlds. She knew the right words to say to make both sides happy. But she wasn’t certain how many of those words were truly hers.
The tension persisted until Zala heard a profound truth from Pastor Abebe that made everything click. Pastor Abebe’s years had granted him enough discernment to listen to different viewpoints before jumping to a conclusion.
“Who nailed Jesus to the cross?” Pastor Abebe employed probing questions to prod his students’ thinking. “Was it people, Satan or God? Well, we know it included people, because we have the story of Herod, Pilate, the Jewish Council and the Roman soldiers. That’s the answer our atheist friends will stick to, and they’re correct. But Satan also had a part, for he entered Judas to betray Jesus. And God played the leading role. While praying earnestly in Gethsemane, Jesus surrendered to drink the cup given to him by his Father, not Satan. So humans, Satan and God all had a role in the crucifixion of Jesus. And this creates no contradiction at all.”
Zala’s head was spinning. This line of thinking was totally new to her and made perfect sense! Pastor Abebe’s second story shed even more light:
“And who caused the sufferings of Job—God, Satan or natural causes? Undeniably there were natural causes—a collapsed roof killed his children, bands of marauders made off with his possessions, and a disease triggered painful boils all over his body. Behind all of these was the hand of Satan who had received permission to afflict Job to any extent short of death. Yet after all these devastating losses had landed, Job held to an unwavering conviction: ‘The Lord gave and the Lord took away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’
“Was Job conscious of these spiritual realities? Not at all. He received no notification of Satan’s license to torture him. And he was equally clueless about God’s involvement. He complained loudly to his friends that he desired to drag God into court to explain his unjust sufferings. But God’s voice was not to be heard. Only at the conclusion of his trials was Job granted a glimpse into the spiritual battle that surrounded him all along.
“That’s how we are most of the time. We can describe in grand detail the physical storms that buffet us. But rarely are we granted to perceive the spiritual realities behind them. What we can say with confidence is this: Behind every hardship we face is a trial. Both God and Satan are present to test us. Satan wants us to respond to our sufferings with resentment, anger and rebellion. God wants us to respond with loyalty and trust. In that sense the spiritual world is present in every big and small trial we face.”
Zala felt like someone finally flipped on the light switch in her brain. Of course that was it! Our struggles always have some sort of natural, scientifically explainable origin. And behind each of them is an opportunity to turn toward God or away from him. The beauty of this explanation is that needs no hype, no spookiness, nothing that would the “normal” kids at school pop their corks.
Finally Zala asked herself: Where exactly did coronavirus come from? It came from just where the authorities said it did—a virus that most likely jumped from animals to humans. Once we acknowledge this, it’s only wise to take all the precautions recommended by the CDC and other trusted sources.
Another thought flashed across Zala’s mind. She had never seen her teachers or classmates so scared before. Or their parents. Lots of people were staying at home. Some had lost their jobs. Lots of her friends feared their grandparents won’t be with them anymore when this is all over. Weddings were cancelled and maybe graduations too. Life was on hold. Her friends were stressed out, or bored, or both. And this was going on all around the world!
Since every trial we face presents us with the choice to turn toward God or away from him, Zala reasoned, this epidemic has to be the biggest opportunity in a long time for people to make choices about God. Zala knew some strong Christians in her school and a few atheists, but students mostly didn’t care one way or the other. They were more interested in getting into college, finding a boyfriend, playing video games or whatever. Now they were faced with school closings, uncertainty about the future job market, and maybe even losing family members. Some of them had softer hearts than Zala had seen in a long time. She resolved to pray fervently that many of her friends would begin to seek after God.
Zala is a composite of several second-generation immigrants we’ve encountered over the years. Global Youth Interchange was founded to serve second gen immigrants like her, as well as their parents and American churches who love them.
How is your heart responding to the coronavirus? Do you think about spiritual things more frequently than usual? If some of the things that typically demand your focus have fallen apart or are on hold, you are in a place to sense the presence of God more clearly. Maybe this is the right time for you to seek the counsel of Christians about these things. We’d love to hear from you. You can email us, leave us a voicemail or send us a message on Facebook. Don’t let this season of spiritual openness be crowded out by other things. Reach out to us today!
Here are helpful links to help you in seeking God and coping with coronavirus: